When ABBA wasn’t cool

Photo by Andrew Ebrahim on Unsplash

Would someone tell me how to make a backwards B so that it points in the opposite direction of the second B, like in their logo? I guess there’s some way to do it, but after hours of trying, the regular first B will have to suffice.

In the 1970s, just living in California was cool. I didn’t think you couldn’t be cool if you lived in California. But I was wrong.

“Waterloo” is the song that won the Eurovision Contest for ABBA in 1974. Two years later, it became a hit in the United States, climbing to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. At the time, it was a decent song. In fact, I downright loved it. But I was careful not to love it too much. It was borderline not cool.

I’ll just come right out and say it: I was gay when gay wasn’t cool, even in a Southern California kind of way. You could only go so far until you’d find yourself being called a woman, a faggot, a queer — those were the choice words of the day. Gay still wasn’t quite a thing.

Like the other boys in junior high school (now known as “Middle School”), a façade wasn’t expected, it was demanded. One did not step outside of the line that separated boy from girl. That’s not what being gay is about, but that’s beside the point. Through peer pressure, I was expected to “man-up” by smoking pot, drinking terrible booze, and trying to get my hands up a girl’s dress.

But it was the music that bonded us, if one can call it that. It was expected that I liked Jethro Tull, Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, and the like.

Fortunately, I really liked Led Zeppelin. Or was it Robert Plant’s crotch?

One day at lunch while eating my corn burritos (a Ventura staple) at Tony’s Burrito Hut, a song came on the radio that immediately grabbed my attention: “Honey, Honey”, ABBA’s second US single. That just sealed the deal:

I loved ABBA.

However, my love couldn’t be manifested publicly or I’d surely be labeled as gay and get my face bashed in. I wanted to buy that record SO much, but if anyone ever caught me liking it, I’d be dead meat. It just wasn’t cool.

And then what happens? They become really big with a string of hits that included “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”, “SOS”, and to top it all off, “Mamma Mia!” Liking that last song would be totally off the charts if you wanted to position yourself as a straight young man in 1975. So I continued to resist.

ABBA in Madam Tussauds Wax Museum, London

For many reasons, I left California cool and headed to the cornfields of the Midwest, landing at the University of Nebraska. “Finally”, I thought, “I can be myself!”

Not so fast.

Since 95% of the students at the University were from Nebraska, I was an anomaly, and I was cool not only because I was from out of state, but I was from California! I could do no wrong among my newfound friends. Except to like ABBA. “Dancing Queen” was released during my freshman year, and because it hit #1, it was garnered some respect. But still, better lay low.

I was an independent stoner, and stoners didn’t sit around listening to ABBA, so the charade had to continue. Some of their best songs — “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, “The Name of the Game”, and “Take a Chance on Me”, all hugely successful pop tunes came and went. But I still loved Robert Plant.

Photo by Valerie Troutman, unobtanium13.com

In my adult skin, I became a little bit better at verbalizing that I might like ABBA a little bit. In 1982, “The Visitors” was their last hit single, and I finally got the balls to buy. Didn’t publicize it, but bought it.

During the last half of my embattled 13 year marriage, I was often accused of being gay. (What a concept!) I repeatedly said no, I was not.

It wasn’t because of these movies, but loving 1994’s “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (which featured “Dancing Queen”), and “Muriel’s Wedding” (the soundtrack being almost all ABBA songs), the interrogations continued.

Photo by primevideo.com

My fondness for Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me”, and Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods should have sealed the gay deal, but they didn’t. In a turn of events, my ex-wife had an affair with our household handyman and filed for divorce.

Now living in Chicago, and with a real boyfriend, my love for ABBA was able to continue unabated. I bought my first ABBA CD in Hong Kong (I saved a few bucks). We saw “Mamma Mia!” — The Musical at the Cadillac Palace in 2000, and the movie debuted in 2008. With their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, my love was validated.

Photo by the Author

Fast forward to 2015, and I hit the peak, the pinnacle, the zenith of my ABBA fandom with a trip to their museum in Stockholm. Well, I mean there were other reasons to visit Sweden! But I’m not embarrassed to say this was one of the highlights.

To the youngsters out there, if you feel like you’re gay, you probably are, and while there are still obstacles that you will face, there are many more who will embrace you. It’s a new day. Be your authentic self.

And to ABBA, all I have to say is:

Thank You for the Music.

My life in the context of 20th-century history and pop culture — infused with a dose of fun (where appropriate!) More to come when I get my sea legs on here.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store